About a month ago, I wrote about how Dave and I were turning off our TV for the month of May to participate in the Whole9Life Kill Your TV program. The changes in our habits were significant but not dramatic. Turns out, we weren’t as attached to the devil box as we thought and real life has way to much going on to miss the TV (too much).
What We Learned
1. I didn’t have more time – but I had better time.
When I committed to turning off the TV, I expected to find myself with all kinds of free time. I made a giant list of all the things I could do with this new-found bounty: completing my Prague scrapbook, purging cabinets, drawers, and closets, etc. Those things didn’t happen. Instead, Dave and I lingered at the dining table after dinner, then slowly cleaned up the kitchen, and meandered around doing little odds and ends of stuff or – in my case – writing blog posts, then generally crawled into bed to read side by side. I didn’t feel like my free time increased, but it expanded. Our activities were more human and engaged in our lives, less passive.
2. It is possible to get sick of sitting in the same chair.
Dave and I have a dining room table that I love because we can squeeze 8-10 people around it for a dinner party. It’s a dark, red-brown rectangle with lots of nicks and scars that demonstrate how many fun meals have been eaten on it. There are tall-backed chairs on three sides and the fourth long side has a bench where we squish in small-boned friends. Dave usually sits at the head of the table, and I sit to his right in “my” chair. I have to admit there were times in May, especially on the weekends, when I got sick of eating in my chair. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, and possibly a snack or two were eaten in this chair. (I’m sitting here now, in fact.) That sensation, however, also reminded how totally, utterly wrong it now feels to me that we ate dinner on the couch in front of the TV more often than I want to admit.
3. Sometimes we should just go to bed.
Previously, before no-TV month, I would sometimes struggle to stay awake, insisting I wanted to finish watching a show. During May, some evenings, when post-dinner order had been restored to the kitchen, I’d be tempted to do something productive or creative even if I was tired. Instead, I often opted to wash my face, brush my teeth, brew some Natural Calm, and hit the pillow with a book. This kind of “rest when tired” behavior – somewhat new for me – is not a bad thing.
4. I like reading a lot more than watching TV.
I think you’re already familiar with my deep affection for books, and now that I’ve gone a month without the blue box, it’s even more apparent that books are more enjoyable for me than even a great TV show. I like series like Modern Family and Law & Order because of the recurring characters rather than the plot points – which is exactly why I enjoy authors like Daniel Silva, Lee Child, Elizabeth George, and Dick Francis who write book series with recurring characters who grow, stumble, fall in and out of love, suffer, and thrive over the course of many novels. With books, my imagination is fully engaged, and I’m transported into the world of the novel in a way a TV show can’t touch.
5. Meditation is a practice.
Along with turning off the TV this month, I was tuning into a new meditation practice. I didn’t do it every day, but it is slowly becoming a habit. There’s a reason it’s called a “practice.” Whew. I don’t have a hard time with it once I get started – I’m pretty good at focusing on my breathing and quieting my mind chatter – but some days it takes a lot of self talk to get myself into position. Practice, practice, practice.
6. I had less of a TV addiction than I thought.
I thought I was going to have a really hard time with this no-TV challenge, and mostly, it wasn’t bad. During the last week or so, I’ve said to Dave – very petulantly – I’m sick of not watching TV. What I meant was: I’d like to snuggle in a lump with you and watch a fun movie. I didn’t miss watching American Idol or Dancing With The Stars or Burn Notice, but in the last few days, I have been craving the combo of an immersive movie and my sweetie close by.
Our New TV Guidelines
1. TV is always the lowest priority option for entertainment.
TV will no longer be our default entertainment. It’s last on the list, and the list includes “doing nothing but sitting here,” so there are plenty of other options that we’ll continue to explore in an effort to choose to watch movie/TV entertainment, rather than having it mindlessly happen. [This should sound remarkably similar to how I approach eating treats; it's effectively the same thing. Quality nutrition (entertainment) most of the time, with a treat (Modern Family! NCIS!) thrown into the mix once in a while.]
2. No broadcast TV.
Except for, say, a real-time speech from President Obama or other breaking news, I can’t think of a good reason to watch live, broadcast TV – and I have plenty of reasons against. Commercials are tedious or boring or designed to make me feel like I’m inadequate or my life isn’t exciting enough or I haven’t done enough to prepare for retirement. F*ck you, marketers! As Dave said, the ratio of content to commercials is really low so it’s like paying a giant emotional tax for just a little bit of entertainment. We’ve been without cable for two years and now we’re swearing off what we can pilfer from the airwaves with our antenna. The only way we’ll be watching a TV show is on Netflix or DVD. By choice not happenstance. And only occasionally, because…
3. Minimal TV time during the week, if at all.
I’m making a concerted effort to keep the TV off during the week. I’m giving myself a little wiggle room for days that are marred by monthly cramps or particularly tedious weather. On those occasions, I give myself full permission to watch Jane Eyre or When Harry Met Sally… or Gosford Park.
4. Only one episode of a TV show or one movie per sitting.
There have been times when I’ve gotten sucked into watching back-to-back (to-back-to-back) episodes of TV shows on DVD. No more. One sitting, one episode. The end.
5. No meals in front of the TV unless it’s a dinner & a movie theme night.
Generally speaking, it’s a terrible idea to eat in front of the television. If I’m watching TV while I eat, I forget to savor my food and engage with my dinner companion. But again, I’m leaving a little wiggle room here for theme nights. I love theme nights! My mom and I spent a lovely evening once eating homemade linguini with clam sauce while watching The Godfather. We talked and laughed and ate and drank wine, and it created beautiful memories… so I don’t want to say I’ll never eat in front of the TV again. But it will be rare and it will be a choice, not habit. And there might be costumes or props involved.
And finally, all of these guidelines are moot if I have the flu. When I have the flu, I’m watching Law & Order in bed, on my laptop, back-to-back, all day long, in a half-asleep state until I feel better. And then I promise to turn off the blue box.
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